Meeting in Luxembourg yesterday (16 June), EU interior ministers rejected a plan by the European Commission to distribute 40,000 immigrants from Italy and Greece to the other member countries, according to quotas proposed by the EU executive.
On 27 May, the Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states. The Commission’s scheme needs to be adopted by the Council of the European Union, voting by qualified majority.
It was clear from the outset that the proposal stood no chance of being accepted by most member states, given the reactions of EU leaders at the extraordinary summit on migration on 23 April (see background).
It also became obvious that many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing, but consider that the proposed quotas need to be re-worked.
Rihards Kozlovskis, Latvia’s Minister of the Interior, stated that a common understanding was reached among delegations that EU countries needed to provide support to those frontline member states which are facing the greatest migratory pressure.
“At the same time it must be recognized that different views continue to exist about the details of the Commission’s proposals for relocation of asylum seekers. We still have work to do to reach an agreement that can be implemented in practice. The solution must be practical,” Kozlovskis said.
The talks were held against the background of tensions between France and Italy, after Paris refused entry to hundreds of African migrants at the border town of Ventimiglia. Italian Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi warned of a “Plan B”, according to which immigrants in Italy could be given documents allowing them to travel in the borderless Schengen space, and boats participating in the Triton operation, a border security effort conducted by Frontex, the EU border security agency, would not be allowed to Italian ports.
Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano said that France risked undermining EU principles.
”Europe has to act like Europe, because it is the right to free movement and the common asylum policy that are at stake,” Alfano told reporters.
“We are in favour of solidarity, but not solidarity without responsibility,” French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said. “If there’s no responsibility, then we jeopardise Schengen and in the end it risks not having solidarity at all,” he added.
Ministers invited the of the Council’s preparatory bodies to continue discussions with the aim of achieving progress as soon as possible. The Latvian Presidency will report to the 25-26 June EU summit on the results of these discussions.
Meeting on short notice for an extraordinary summit on 23 April 2015, EU leaders dealt Jean-Claude Juncker a double-blow on immigration. First, his proposal for legal migration was not supported. Second, he tried to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees. Instead, he had to settle for a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement for those qualifying for protection.
EU leaders decided to triple annual funding to €120 million to the Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off of the coast of Italy, putting it at the same level of funding as the defunct Italian Mare Nostrum mission.
Among 17 proposals in a summit communiqué, leaders agreed to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers". It is unclear how that may be achieved, and several EU leaders said they would need a UN mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country, along with Sweden, takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU's system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.
It also became known that the EU is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize vessels used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.